One of the continuing traditions of my classroom is to display 100’s of inspirational and thought provoking quotes. And one of the quotes I have on that border is by famed Chicago journalist Sydney J. Harris, who says, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”
While I’ve had more than my fair share of opposition to now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, I have continually viewed my classroom – and all of America’s classrooms – as a window to our democracy, to our culture, and to our nation’s future. Without hesitation, we educators teach all the students that are placed on our roster or enter our room. We are the Statue of Liberty personified. We take the “tired, poor, huddled masses;” the same statement Emma Lazarus embossed at the bottom of the Lady’s beacon.
It does not matter what the children are like or who they are. They could be refugees or Native Americans. First-generation or Fiftieth. Inner-city or dairy farmer. Male, female, or transgender. Gay or straight. White, black, or any shade in between. Poor or rich. Adept or adapted. Loving or lost. Hopeless or hope-filled. Gang member or game-changer. The youngest child or a new mom. Blind, deaf, handicapped, or a Gold Medalist in the Olympic games. Eager to be in our class or eager to leave. A kid who brings us an apple, or the kid that is the entrepreneur of the next Apple.
Public education is the great equalizer. The great propulsion. The great American dream… in action. Click To Tweet
So for protesters to block Betsy DeVos’s first visit to an American public school as the Secretary of Education is wrong on all accounts. It is improper because it is counter to our cause, our principles, and our reason for becoming teachers. Indeed, public schools are open to all, not least of which is the Secretary of Education. And not any less because she’s thinking about shutting the doors of public schools in favor of opening those of charter and private facilities. In fact, they should be even more open for that reason.
You see, to be obtuse and opaque about public education is to be not only disingenuous, but undemocratic. Every community has a public school. And in those public schools are students who want to learn. And in those schools are teachers who entered this profession because they want to make it happen. They themselves embody that perpetual motion of change. They are writing a new Emma Lazarus poem each day with each student, showing them the light of their dreams.
I don’t know who those D.C. protesters were. I don’t know why they were protesting. I do know that is their right, even if I don’t agree with it.
But the next time Secretary DeVos visits a public school, I hope those teachers welcome her with open arms. That they line up outside the school even. And that they bring her into their classroom, to show her the great things we do with students – of all walks of life – every day. And to show the Secretary how we are, indeed, “turning mirrors into windows.”
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